There’s a notion that somehow St Thérèse of the Child Jesus is a delicate, little thing. She is the Little Flower, the doctor of the Little Way, and indeed, St Thérèse revels in her littleness.
But her littleness comes from a place of deep desire and longing.
Those hopes and desires of mine which are almost limitless… I long for other vocations: I want to be a warrior, a priest, an apostle, a doctor of the Church, a martyr… I would like to perform the most heroic deeds. I feel I have the courage of a Crusader. I should like to die on the battlefield in defence of the Church.
At moments like these, St Therese reminds me another great woman, Éowyn. You can almost hear Éowyn in St Thérèse — or St Thérèse in Éowyn.
Aragorn speaks of Eowyn as a flower too, but in quite a different way:
When I first looked on her and perceived her unhappiness, it seemed to me that I saw a white flower standing straight and proud, shapely as a lily and yet knew that it was hard, as if wrought by elf-wrights out of steel.
Éowyn’s hardness comes from her fear and unhappiness. She longs for more than life offered her. Gandalf explains to her brother Eomer that he “had horses, and deed of arms, and the free fields; but she, being born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least the match of yours.” Instead, she feels trapped. Love and duty compelled her to care for her ailing uncle but the lies of Wormtongue told her this was dishonorable. She felt scorned and used: “her part seemed to her more ignoble than that of the staff [Théoden] leaned on.”
Éowyn believes it is only by doing great deeds that her life has any value. She longs her valour and death on the battlefield because she believes it is all she is.
Like St Thérèse, she fears neither pain nor death.
But what does she fear?
‘A cage’, she said. ‘To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.’
St Thérèse would have understood.
Yet she willingly chose that cage. She chose to stay behind bars, a hidden, cloistered nun of Carmel.
The difference between the two is in their fear of their own limitations.
Éowyn feared her own littleness. She feared weakness and scorned pity. She longed to do something because she feared nothingness. Éowyn gets her wish — almost. She slays the Witch-King of Angmar and is mortally wounded in battle. It is only the hands of the Healer-King, Aragorn that save her from death. But even he can only so much.
He can heal her bodily wounded “but to what she will awake: hope, forgetfulness, or despair, I do not know. And if to despair, then she will die, unless other healing comes which I cannot bring.” Éowyn’s true healing comes slowly. It comes by learning a little of what St Thérèse knew and loved: that the greatest deeds aren’t the ones which win renown but the ones done out of love:
Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.
This is why Éowyn’s true healing only begins with Faramir. More than any other character, Faramir understands that it is love which makes deeds great, not the renown they bring or even how much they cost.
War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.
That is because the greatest acts of sacrifice are worthless without love.
The sacrifice of Christ was not in the extent of His sufferings but in His love. Love alone can transform the tiniest thing into the most splendid — and make the grandest acts utterly worthless. Love does not long for greatness for its own sake. Love dies to itself, seeks the good of others. Love gladly accepts the lowest place and takes the form of a servant. Love humbles itself, empties itself and gives itself.
St Thérèse found the fulfillment of all her desires in love. Her vocation is love because love alone includes all vocations, embraces all times and places: love is all things.
This is why for St Thérèse, the cloister of Carmel wasn’t a cage but the whole world. Because behind the bars of Carmel, St Thérèse could love and in loving, conquer the world for Christ. When St Thérèse was facing death, she promised that she would “send down a shower of roses from the heavens, I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.”
In the end, the story of Éowyn’s soul echoes with this same love of life:
Then the heart of Éowyn changed, or else at last she understood it.
And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her. ‘I stand in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun,’ she said; ‘and behold! the Shadow has departed! I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy only in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.’
And again she looked at Faramir. ‘No longer do I desire to be a queen,’ she said. Then Faramir laughed merrily. ‘That is well,’ he said; ‘for I am not a king. Yet I will wed with the White Lady of Rohan, if it be her will. And if she will, then let us cross the River and in happier days let us dwell in fair Ithilien and there make a garden. All things will grow with joy there, if the White Lady comes.’